The Fram Expedition: Exploring the Unknown Polar Regions

Exploring the Unknown Polar Regions

Goals of the Fram Expedition


In 1881, the enormous pressure of sea ice crushed and later sank the USS Jeannette off the coast of Siberia. Nearly three years later, artifacts from the USS Jeanette were discovered off the coast of Greenland, more than 2000 miles west of the wreckage site. To Nansen, this was evidence of an east-west current across the Arctic, and inspired him to explore the polar region by floating with the current, frozen in sea ice. At the time, little was known about Arctic ocean currents, and even less was known about the geography of the Arctic. As Sir Allen Young put it,

“Dr. Nansen assumes the blank space around the axis of the earth to be a pool of water or ice; I think the great danger to contend with will be the land in nearly every direction near the Pole. Most previous navigators seem to have continued seeing land again and again farther and farther north. These Jeannette relics may have drifted through narrow channels, and thus finally arrived at their destination, and, I think, it would be an extremely dangerous thing for the ship to drift through them, where she might impinge upon the land, and be kept for years.”

To his critics, Nansen declared that, “exploring the unknown Polar Regions” meant far more than simply reaching the north pole. It meant gathering geographic and scientific observations to better understand the Arctic system:

“Among our scientific pursuits may also be mentioned the determining of the temperature of the water and its degree of saltiness at varying depths; the collection and examination of such animals as are to be found in these northern seas; the ascertaining of the amount of electricity in the air; the observation of the formation of ice, its growth and thickness, and of the temperature of the different layers of ice; the investigation of the currents in the water under it...There remains to be mentioned the regular observation of the aurora borealis, which we had a splendid opportunity of studying.”       

Optional Classroom Activity

Create a T-chart or venn diagram to compare and contrast the science from the Fram and MOSAiC expeditions. For information about science as it relates to the Fram expedition, refer to the reading above. For an overview of MOSAiC science, refer to the MOSAiC Science website. For more details about each of the main scientific focus areas, check out this interactive infographic. We recommend using a jigsaw approach, where students become experts on one of the five MOSAiC “Scientific Focus Areas”. Wrap up this activity by completing the T-chart/venn diagram as a whole class.